Hump Day marked a tough day for Jen Psaki as she reportedly careens toward the series finale of The Psaki Show as the White House press secretary faced tough questions on inflation and another off-the-cuff remark from President Biden about Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine, including one that questioned whether there needs to be “an asterisk next to anything that the President says.”
The first biting question came from CBS’s Nancy Cordes, noting that it was only a week ago that National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters they haven’t “seen a systemic deprivation of life” by the Russians that would classify their actions as a genocide and therefore something had to change from then to Biden’s insistence Tuesday that the war is a genocide.
Psaki made things more confusing: “Well, the President spoke to that twice yesterday and, of course, he’s the President and we are here to — to implement his views.”
Fox’s Jacqui Heinrich observed that “[i]t seemed like a passing remark,” so it appeared no one knew in advance. Again, Psaki didn’t try to explain it away, saying Biden’s free to “make his views known at any point he would like” since he’s “at the top” of “the totem pole.”
NBC reporter and future Psaki colleague Shannon Pettypiece wanted to know whether Biden’s opinion are “U.S. policy” or it’s another case of Biden spouting off as Joe Biden the person instead of the President. When Psaki said there’s still “a...process” to determine it in a “legal” sense,” Pettypiece called out the disconnect (click “expand”):
PETTYPIECE: Is there any concern, though, that the President's views on things, differing from what the actual policy is once it’s gone through all those legal channels, that that could confusing to world leaders when the President’s saying one thing, but the policy isn’t necessarily clear?
PSAKI: Well, how would it impact it — the outcome?
PETTYPIECE: Yeah, well, I mean, once there’s a genocide being committed in a region, other countries would treat that in a certain way if that’s —
PSAKI: In what way?
PETTYPIECE: — indeed the policy. I guess as far as how — the way leaders would try — you know, decide how they’re going to respond to that. So, and I don’t —
PSAKI: Well, typically, a — a consideration of genocide takes years. I mean, look at — there are many past examples. And if you look at even Uighurs — right — and what we have called out happening in China. That took many years to call out. That hasn’t meant we’ve provided a range of military assistance. What we are doing now is we are trying to prop up and support Ukrainian leaders. There are other — and the military, of course — there are other leaders who have — in the world — who have said something similar to what the President has said recently. Because they’re also seeing the atrocities on the ground. I do not know that it’s changed policy or confused anyone. I think they’re speaking all from what they are seeing with their own eyes as we look at the visuals of what’s happening on the ground.
And moments after Reuters’s Alex Alper pointed out State Department spokesman Ned Price said prior to the White House briefing that the U.S. has yet to officially call the war a genocide, CNN’s M.J. Lee engaged in a series of questioning that was akin to an out-of-body experience for most of CNN when she asked if “an asterisk” is required for what emanates from Biden’s mouth.
Psaki wasn’t pleased (click “expand”):
LEE: Jen, three times now the President has made comments about the war, that the white house or he himself subsequently said did not reflect U.S. policy or a legal determination when he said Putin is a war criminal, when he said that Putin cannot remain in power, and, of course, this comment about this being genocide in Ukraine. Does this not send a signal to the world there kind of is an asterisk next to anything that the President says?
PSAKI: Well, when the President ran, he promised the American people he would shoot from the shoulder is his phrase that he often uses and tell it to them straight and his comments yesterday, not once, but twice, and on war crimes are an exact reflection of that. I don't think anybody is confused about the atrocities of what we’re seeing on the ground, the horrors of what we’re seeing on the ground and different leaders around the world describe it in different ways, but what we’re — what is unquestionable is what we're seeing is horrific, the targeting of civilians, of hospitals, of — of even kids and the President was calling it like he sees it and that’s what he does.
LEE: If I could ask it this way: Do you think that there is any danger to global leaders, including Vladimir Putin to Olaf Scholz if they can't be sure when they hear words coming out of the President’s mouth whether he is stating a personal opinion versus making a statement about U.S. policy?
PSAKI: Do you have an example of someone who is confused? A leader?
LEE: Well, I mean, my colleague brought up Emmanuel Macron saying — responding and saying, you know, the use of the language genocide, he sees as rhetorical escalation.
PSAKI: President Putin is brutally targeting civilians and brutallizing a country right now, so the President, this President was speaking to what those atrocities are and what he is seeing on the ground. A number of other leaders have done exactly that. It does not change policy in the sense that we have seen these atrocities, unfortunately, for weeks now and we’re going to see more as Russia pulls back from parts of the country, so what our focus will continue to be and the focus of leaders around the world is to continue to escalate our military assistance, our security assistance as we did today in providing a range of — of weapons that we have not even provided to them in the past and that, I think, is what the Ukrainians are most focused on and I think the global community is most focused on: how we're responding and how we’re helping them.
Even Washington Post writer and Team Biden member Annie Linskey was perplexed, pleading with Psaki for “tips” on how to “interpret his words as reaction versus U.S. policy.”
Things weren’t any better for Psaki on inflation. Heinrich closed her round of questions with this in light of the March inflation report: “[D]oes the White House still view inflation as transitory?”
Incredibly, Psaki reiterated the same, stale answer she’s given for months: “That is the view of the Federal Reserve and outside economists and they all continue to project it will come down this year.”
Heinrich’s colleague Edward Lawrence of the Fox Business Network got down into the weeds (while still remaining effective) by citing a record Producer Price Index (PPI) measuring “the price that companies are paying for the materials that they need to make the stuff that they sell.”
Lawrence went onto ask whether the White House thinks higher numbers are in store, but Psaki wouldn’t commit other than state she’ll “let the Federal Reserve make projections” and give an explanation of the difference between the PPI and Consumer Price Index (CPI).
The FBN correspondent also pressed on whether Biden bears responsibility for inflation: “[D]oes the President acknowledge any responsibility for the inflation that we're seeing now based on the decisions that he's made when he came into office?”
Psaki kept to her talking points about blaming the coronavirus pandemic, the war in Ukraine, but when asked in a follow-up about the rash of federal spending in 2021 having contributed to inflation, she dismissed that notion by arguing it was needed to keep Americans from starving.
To see the relevant transcript from April 13's briefing (including questions about illegal immigration and one from Today News Africa’s Simon Ateba on Psaki’s rumored departure), click here.